At the beginning of the Book of Genesis, in the first moments after God first created the heavens and the earth, the writer — Moses — tells us that the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And what Moses is describing there are the basic building-blocks of existence. If we were writing about these primordial moments, we would talk about undifferentiated matter and energy exploding outward in every direction. But Moses obviously did not think in these categories; instead, he talks about earth and water, utter darkness and the Spirit of God.
He is setting a scene where God is like the gigantic master of a construction site that is still completely undeveloped. It is as if God is leaning over the table that is the earth, and it is nothing but a chaotic mass of raw materials.
Then construction begins with these words: God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And if you are familiar with the rest of Chapter 1 of Genesis, then you know that God gradually, step by step, clears the building site, digs right down to the bed-rock, and then begins to build, taking and refining the raw materials of the universe and shaping them into a temple that is the earth. And then, after he was finished with the temple, he began to fill it with life: plants, then animals, then people.
But if we were to read Genesis Chapter 1 together right now, we would notice that God does not use his hands to do this, he uses only his voice. From the first day to the seventh day, the recurring chorus of Chapter 1 is and God said, and God said. The first time we see God using his hands —- so to speak — is in Chapter 2, when he formed a man from the dust of the ground.
The point we are focusing on right now is this: from the very beginning of Genesis, Moses has connected the concept of light to God’s speech, God’s word. God’s spoken word is the source of light; light comes from God’s spoken word. And Moses emphasizes this point by telling us that all the other physical sources of light for the earth — the sun, the moon, the stars — are only put into place on the fourth day. Which means that the first three days of creation were lit only by the Word of God.
Well now, here we are, well into Part 2 of Moses’ Book of Exodus. And if you have been with us over the last few weeks, then you already know that God has been engaged in a process of deconstruction. He has been taking the corrupt order that the Egyptian empire has forced upon creation and he has been taking it all apart, piece by piece.
During the first cycle of judgements — the first three plagues — God turned the Nile river to blood and frogs, and turned the dust into biting insects, proving that he is the Lord over earth and water, the basic building-blocks of existence.
During the second cycle of judgements, God ruined the soil with flies, and covered just the Egyptian people and animals with diseases, proving that he has precise personal control over every element of creation.
The third cycle of judgements began two weeks ago. So far God has brought hail from heaven, and a locust-carrying wind, proving that he controls not just earth and water, but the skies as well.
And as we look at the situation in Egypt today, we have to realize that, really, God has to be almost finished with his deconstruction project. Back in Genesis 1, when God had finished the basic structures of the earth, we saw him install plants, animals, and humans. Well, over the last few weeks of judgement we have seen God performing a reversal of that creation process: starting with animals and humans, and working his way backwards down to plants, until — at the end of last week’s plague — nothing green remained in all the land of Egypt.
Egypt is ruined. The nation is going to starve to death if Pharaoh does not submit to God’s messiah Moses. And still Pharaoh refuses.
So what else remains for God to desconstruct here?
Let’s read on and find out what the third and final plague of the third and final cycle of judgement is going to be:
 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.”  So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days.  No one could see anyone else or move about for three days.
Now, after all the terrible plagues that have been happening — diseases and hailstorms and locusts — to us this plague of darkness seems almost like a vacation. As readers, we can almost imagine the Egyptians going, “Oh, it’s just darkness for three days? Wonderful! If you need me I’ll be at home resting.”
But as modern readers, we really don’t understand just how dark darkness can be. We live in a very well-lit world. But this is a darkness like the darkness of a cave, in a society lit only by oil lamps, which are not very bright. Which is why, as Moses says here, no one could move about for three days. Which means this darkness is economically devastating. Over the last two plagues the Egyptians have lost all their crops; now this darkness denies them the possibility of planting new crops.
But this darkness is not just economically devastating, it is psychologically devastating, spiritually devastating. Egyptians worshiped the sun-god, the moon-god, and the star-gods. The heavenly lights marked out the days, the months, and the seasons, they gave order to the flow of Time. So for all the heavenly sources of light to suddenly disappear meant that Time itself — the very fabric of the universe — was beginning to tear apart. To the Egyptians, this would have felt like the apocalypse, even more terrifying than hailstorms or locusts or anything else that has come before.
Now, the economic and spiritual impact of this darkness would have been obvious to both the Egyptians and the Israelites. But the Israelites would have understood this on an even deeper, more symbolic level. After hearing Moses describe God’s creation process in Genesis, the Israelites would have realized that this darkness is the logical final step of God’s uncreation process here in Egypt. Just as the first three days of creation were lit only by the Word of God, now the last three days of uncreation go completely unlit by the Word of God.
Which means that this is actually the most terrible act of judgement God has poured out on Egypt so far. As we noticed last week, the Egyptians are facing physical starvation, and that threat of starvation is God’s way of leading them to understand that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Well, now the Egyptians are facing spiritual starvation; this is a three-day preview of the kind of living death that comes upon people who refuse to live on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. They have rejected God’s Word, so now God has completely withdrawn his Word from them.
This physical darkness symbolises the complete silence of God.
Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.
Why? Because the Word of God has not departed from them.
 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, “Go, worship the Lord. Even your women and children may go with you; only…leave your flocks and herds behind.”
So we see that, even after all this, Pharaoh is still treating God as a corrupt judge, he is still trying to make a deal with him. Last week he said, “Okay, okay, the men can go, but leave your women and children behind.” And it was obvious that Pharaoh wanted to hold the women and children hostage to make sure the Israelite men came back. This time he says, “Okay, okay, your women and children can go also; but leave your flocks and herds behind.”
But why? Is he planning to hold the animals hostage, knowing that the Israelites will starve in the wilderness and be forced to come back if they don’t bring their flocks and herds?
Sure. But perhaps, even more importantly, after last week’s plague of locusts devoured their final harvest of wheat, Pharaoh has realized that his nation needs Israel’s flocks and herds if they are going to survive. By this point he might actually want the Israelites to go and not come back — as long as they leave their animals behind!
 But Moses said, “You must allow us to have sacrifices and burnt offerings to present to the Lord our God.  Our livestock too must go with us; not a hoof is to be left behind. We have to use some of them in worshiping the Lord our God, and until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the Lord.”
 But — once again — the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go. Instead,  Pharaoh said to Moses, “Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.”
 “Just as you say,” Moses replied. “I will never appear before you again.”
But Moses’ final official meeting with Pharaoh is not quite over yet. Because, previously, before this meeting began,  the Lord had said to Moses, “I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely.
“He will be so devastated that he will finally give up trying to make a deal with me. He will let your women and children and flocks and herds go without an argument.
“So  tell the people that men and women alike are to ask their neighbors for articles of silver and gold.”
Basically, God is saying, “since Pharaoh is going to let you leave with everything you’ve got, you might as well pick up all the salary Egypt has failed to pay you for the last 400 years also.”
But this seems like a pretty bold move, doesn’t it? Why would the Egyptians suddenly decide to give their Israelite slaves silver and gold just for the asking?
Well, because  the Lord made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and Moses himself was highly regarded in Egypt by Pharaoh’s officials and by the people.
So this is interesting, isn’t it?
Over the course of Part 2 we have noticed a progressive breaking and softening of Pharaoh’s people. It began with the bomoh at the end of the first cycle when they said, “Whoa, we give up! Moses’ God is too strong for us!” And by the end of the second cycle, they were too sick to even go to court at all. Then, two weeks ago, at the start of the third cycle, a few of Pharaoh’s officials decided to fear God’s word. Last week all of Pharaoh’s officials decided to fear God’s word, they were saying to Pharaoh, “Come on, man! Let the people go! Do you not realize that Egypt is ruined?” And now, at the end of the third cycle, even the common people of Egypt are favorably disposed toward Moses and the Israelites.
So God’s master plan is working. We talked about this last week, how Pharaoh has been controlling the media and denying his people the chance to hear God’s word and make their own choice about whether to submit, and how God has been driving Pharaoh to destroy his own nation’s economy so that, at the end of the process, the choice will be made clear to every Egyptian: they can stay with Pharaoh and starve to death, or they can follow God’s messiah into the wilderness and live.
Pharaoh’s media blackout is failing. The truth is finally coming out: the fact that all of these ecological and spiritual disasters would stop if Pharaoh let the Israelites go. And so now even the common people have joined Pharaoh’s officials in saying, “Let the people go! Do you not realize that Egypt is ruined? Look, we’ll even pay them to leave if we have to!”
So, going back a bit here: Pharaoh had said to Moses, “Get out of my sight!” And Moses had replied, “No worries! I will never appear before you again.”
But now, just before he turns to leave, Moses ends his final official meeting with Pharaoh by saying, “Oh, by the way, this is what the Lord says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt.  Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well.  There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again.  But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.  All these officials of yours will come to me, bowing down before me and saying, ‘Go, you and all the people who follow you!’ After that I will leave.”
Then Moses, hot with anger, left Pharaoh.
And now Moses, the writer, marks the end of the third cycle of judgement with these summary comments:  The Lord had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you—so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.”
And it has all happened exactly as God said it would:  Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.
So the uncreation of Egypt is now complete. God has broken down the entire system and cleared away the rubble. The bed-rock of Egyptian society has been laid bare. Once again, as in the first verses of Genesis, the land is formless and empty, darkness lies over the surface of the earth, and the Spirit of God is hovering over it all, getting ready to speak a new word of creation.
But it is troubling to realize that this new word of creation is going to involve death — specifically the death of every firstborn son in Egypt, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh to the firstborn son of the female slave, even the firstborn of the remaining livestock. When we pause to think about this, many questions begin to occur to us, like: why the firstborn? And why everyone’s firstborn, when really this is all Pharaoh’s fault? And why does there have to be any death at all? What does it all mean?
Over the next few weeks, as this final judgement opens up into a new creation, we will be addressing these questions in detail, so keep coming back for that.
But today we are just going to focus on one particular aspect of this final judgement: the fact that God himself is going to descend from heaven and go throughout Egypt to bring death to human beings. This, too, carries with it a reversed echo of the creation process in Genesis.
Back in Genesis Chapter 1, if you recall, God did not use his hands to create, he used his voice. It is only in Chapter 2 that we see him use his hands to form a man from the dust. And the idea Moses was trying to communicate there is that God took extra-special personal care in his creation of mankind, more care than he took in his creation of everything else.
So it makes sense now, at the end of the uncreation of Egypt, for God to descend and take extra-special personal care in his judgement of mankind. He is not some distant, impersonal judge who just waves his hand and sends millions of people off to their doom as if they do not matter to him at all. No! Every human being in Egypt was carefully and personally shaped by God; and even if, in the end, they all make the wrong decision and decide to follow Pharaoh instead of Moses, it is only right for God to come and personally lead them onto the path of death that they have chosen. The judgement of human beings, just like the creation of human beings, is a deeply personal process for God.
Okay. But now we have to ask, as we do every week: what does this have to do with us? We do not live in ancient Egypt. Our societies have not enslaved Israel. The darkness of this judgement has nothing to do with us — right?
Well…not so fast. These three cycles of judgment upon Egypt, each containing three acts of judgement, were actually God’s way of revealing the pattern by which he judges all nations.
In fact, this pattern of judgement has already been revealed in the bible two times before this, in extremely simplified forms: first, in God’s judgement upon Cain’s civilization, which ended in Noah’s flood; second in God’s judgement upon Sodom and Gomorrah, which ended in an all-consuming fire. In both of those cases, we see this pattern at work: the offending nation oppresses God’s people; God sends them a messiah to teach them the way of righteousness; the offending nation rejects and insults God’s messiah; so God withdraws what little wisdom he once gave them, gives them over to a darkness of mind and heart, and eventually destroys them — while at the same time making a distinction between his people and the offending nation, drawing his people out of the waters and out of the fire, and in the process transforming them into a new creation.
This story of Egypt’s judgement in Exodus has followed the exact same pattern as those earlier judgements, but in far greater detail. It has included all this extra information about Egypt’s ecological, economic, and spiritual collapse — but it has ended the same way: in a darkness both physical and spiritual as God falls silent and turns his back upon them, leaving them to survive as best they can on their own corrupted human wisdom.
And this is not the last time in scripture we see this pattern of judgement repeated. The later Old Testament prophets — Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and all the rest — highlight how the plagues upon Egypt were all repeated in their own times against Assyria, Babylon and other nations. Even the corrupted nation of Israel did not escape!
And in the New Testament we see this same pattern recognized again. The apostle Paul writes about it in his letter to the Roman church, where he points out that every nation on earth eventually reaches a point where, although they know God, they neither glorify him as God nor give thanks to him. And as a result their thinking becomes futile and their foolish hearts are darkened. Although they claim to be wise, they become fools, and God gives them over to their own uncontrolled desires.
And then, again, in the last book of the New Testament, the apostle John outlines four cycles of judgement, each containing seven acts of judgement. And each cycle follows this same pattern from Exodus: in the end, those who have enslaved God’s people and rejected God’s messiah are plunged into darkness, while at the same time God’s people are lifted up into the light of God’s eternal Word. And John makes it clear — as Paul did — that this is the destiny of every nation on earth.
So the bible tells us that we cannot read about this ancient judgement upon Egypt and then think, “Yeah, well, that really has nothing to do with us!” This has everything to do with our world; these plagues are intended to be a warning for all of us, even today, 3000+ years later.
Why? Because every single nation on earth has, or does, or is going to contain God’s people, now known as Christians. And every single nation on earth eventually tries to wipe out those Christians, just as Egypt tried to wipe out the Israelites. And because of this, every single nation on earth eventually faces the judgements of physical and spiritual starvation.
This has already happened many times throughout history.
For instance: did you know that archaeologists have uncovered Christian tombstones in Java that date to just 200 years after Jesus? But what happened to those Christian communities? We don’t know. They were wiped out so thoroughly they did not even leave any written records behind. And what was the result? This part of the world was plunged into an even deeper darkness than it had known before. It is only in recent centuries that God has mercifully replanted his Church here, restoring some semblance of human rights and order to this region.
We see the same story in China: traces of ancient Christian communities dating from the time just after Christ, communities that disappeared. And how the Chinese nations have suffered as a result! 1,800 years ago the Chinese emperors could have submitted to Christ, but they did not. And as a result that society was plunged back into a social darkness just like that of ancient Egypt, where the common people exist only to feed the tyrants at the top, a system now perfected in communism. And again it is only recently that God has mercifully made a distinction between his people and those who are not, raising his Church up once again in the midst of that ancient empire.
Throughout the world and throughout history we have seen this same pattern of judgement repeated: in Japan, in India, in Yemen, in Ethiopia, in Turkey — wherever Jesus’ Church has been crushed, centuries of darkness have followed. And we should definitely keep our eyes on Europe, on the west, because this pattern is playing itself out again even now. As those societies increasingly reject God’s people and reject God’s Word, we are seeing what happens when God falls silent and allows entire nations to become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. Remember, even Egypt began well by following God’s messiah Joseph, only to turn against God’s messiah later — and now, see how far Egypt has fallen! The same thing is going to happen in the west, precisely because it has turned against its Judeo-Christian heritage.
Make no mistake, friends: the Book of Revelation, at the end of the New Testament, tells us clearly that every single nation on earth eventually collapses into darkness, into the anarchy of unrestrained desire that always follows the silence of God; and Revelation tells us clearly that, in the end, every nation on earth will do this all at once.
So…here’s a question we should be asking: what hope do we have, since we all live among these nations that are destined to fall under this ancient pattern of judgement?
Well, the Book of Exodus has been revealing the pattern by which God brings judgement on all nations. But the Book of Exodus has also been revealing the pattern by which God saves people from all nations:
Back in Part 1 of Exodus, we began to realize that the events of Moses’ life were actually meant to be a preview of the life of God’s ultimate Messiah, Jesus Christ. Just like Moses, Jesus was set apart from birth. Just like Moses, Jesus was baptised. Just like Moses, Jesus was driven into the wilderness, where he was tested. After his testing, he was released to preach God’s Word to the elders and people of Israel. Just like Moses, Jesus was given deeply symbolic signs to perform, pointing forward to judgement, redemption, and the true knowledge of God.
And now, as we near the end of Part 2, we see that the preview pattern has continued. The last and greatest sign of Moses is going to be the descent of God to earth to personally participate in a sign of death leading to a new creation. And as we compare this last great sign of Moses to the last great sign of Jesus’ life, we find the same parallels at work: in Jesus, also, God descended to earth to personally participate in a sign of death leading to a new creation — but with one huge difference. In Moses’ sign, God’s messiah lived while the nation of Egypt died; in Jesus’ sign, God’s messiah died so that the nations might live.
Jesus himself made his purpose clear. At one point the religious leaders of Israel challenged him to prove that he really is the Messiah by performing a sign. Jesus said, “Nope. I’m not gonna do that. The only sign you’re gonna get is the sign of the prophet Jonah. Just as Jonah was buried in a fish and then rose again, so also I will be buried in the earth, only to rise again. And just as Jonah went on to lead people from a pagan nation to repentance, so also I am going to go on to lead people from every pagan nation to repentance. That will be your sign! — when on judgement day you will see people from all these nations you have despised invited into paradise, while you are condemned for rejecting me.”
So this is our hope, even as we live among these nations that are destined to fall into darkness: God has revealed a Messiah to us, a Saviour who chose to die for us rather than bring death to us. And the reason he did this was so he could redeem a people for himself from among all the nations.
So now we have to ask: what are we supposed to do in order to actually escape the nations’ fall into darkness?
The answer is really quite simple; it is the same answer Jesus gave the leaders of Israel when they asked for a sign: we need to listen to God’s word, and recognize that Jesus is God’s Messiah. And in this we have a lot more evidence than they did. First, we have seen all the events of Moses’ life repeated and completed in Jesus’ life — thus proving that Jesus is a messiah. Second, we are seeing the “sign of Jonah” fulfilled: Jesus died, and rose again, and for the last 2000 years we have been seeing people from all the nations on earth being led out of darkness into the light of God’s Word — and this proves that Jesus really is the Messiah. No other man or god on earth has accomplished what Jesus has managed to do: create one new people out of many different nations. There is no other organization on earth that is more diverse and yet more unified than the Church.
So look, if you are here today and you are not a Christian, this is what you should do in response to this passage: look at the evidence and know that Jesus is God’s Messiah for the nations, God’s Messiah for you. Ask Jesus to adopt you into his nation, and he will. The choice that lies before you is clear: you can remain within your current nation, within your current system, or you can follow God’s Messiah into the wilderness.
Now, I realize that this is a big decision, a costly decision. That is the truth. But I am obligated to let you know that the costs are different than they appear. From where you stand now, remaining within your nation looks like the path that leads to peace and prosperity; joining Jesus in his wilderness nation looks like a path that leads only to death. And there is truth to that also! But ultimately the nation to which you are bound is going to sink down into the darkness and the silence at the roots of the earth; one by one the citizens of your nation will pass before the judgement throne of God, where he will judge each one personally, face-to-face, with the same personal care he took to create you. That is the destiny of your current nation; you know this now, from scripture and from history. On the other hand, the wilderness nation of Jesus Christ is going to pass through the dark waters of judgement…only to rise as a new creation on the other side of the sea, on the far side of the wilderness.
So I urge you to listen to the voice of God as he speaks this word of new creation into the darkness of your existence. Look up and follow the light back to its source, and you will live.
Now, for the rest of us who have already forsaken the nations that gave us birth and joined Jesus’ new nation in the wilderness, what are we supposed to do?
Application should have included: we burn with anger that so many have to die.
Well, from the very beginning of this sermon today, we have been connecting the concept of light to God’s spoken word. And just as physical darkness is the absence of light, so also spiritual darkness is the absence of God’s spoken word. And in this last age of the earth, we as Jesus’ nation are the source of God’s spoken word; we are the source of God’s light to the nations.
I want to be clear on one thing, though: this does not mean we are all called to be preachers or even evangelists. Our Heavenly Father has distributed a variety of gifts to his Church, and only some are called to speak God’s Word in a formal sense. But we are all called to speak through whatever gifts our Father has given us.
This is how Jesus describes what we are supposed to do as a nation; this is what he said: “You are the light of the world. So let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” And then he goes on to say that “good deeds” are actually defined by God’s Word, and he urges us to keep on listening closely to our Father’s voice so that we are not tempted to redefine “good deeds” to match the nations’ corrupt standards.
The apostle Paul also talked about this. He says this: “Follow God’s example as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light and find out what pleases the Lord! Therefore do no be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Basically, being the light of the world means being different from the world. And the way we remain different from the world is by continually returning to the source of true light, the spoken Word of God, to be reminded of our Father’s values. And the best way to do that is by continually gathering together in worship, just as Paul described: speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I know it is hard for us to believe in this increasingly individualistic age, but this — what we are doing together right here, right now — this is how we are remade, this is how we become a new creation in the Lord. And we are going to talk more about our need for collective ritual next week, so make sure to come back for that.
In the meantime, let’s close with this summary: since it is through our acts of love that we are the light of the world, and since we need to gather together regularly around the Word of God in order to learn what acts of love our Father desires, let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but rather continue to encourage one another — and all the more as we see the Day approaching.